First week in the bag

First week over in my new school, and I have survived relatively unscathed. I took the decision earlier this year not to get back into teacher training, at least not yet. My quest was to find a good school – not in Ofsted terms – and do some more TA work for a while until I figured what to do next.

After the stress of last year, it felt like a good idea to take my foot off the accelerator and just to enjoy being in school again and working with children. Also, it was important for me to get some experience working in a well-run school – I’ve been in too many dysfunctional schools and this has meant that I have unfortunately not been exposed to best practice. I could write tomes about all the wrong things that are being done in schools, but not so much about the good things. So, before disillusionment drove me away from a career in education once and for all, it was imperative that I finally got to have a positive experience. I did a stint of supply work, as well as put my nose to the ground to sniff out a good one. It’s early days yet, but I think I’ve found just the school to lick my wounds in and rise back from the ashes.

As part of this process, I also decided to de-activate my Twitter account. There was too much noise on my edu-twitter feed. At first it had excited me but latterly it had become fatiguing. I have been tempted back on once or twice, but only for a short time before realising just how right my decision to ‘switch off’ has been. That’s not to say I haven’t conversed with some interesting people, and I do try to check various blogs now and again. But that’s as far as it goes. I’m eschewing edu-conference season too. At the moment, it feels right to just do my own thing and reflect on my practice without outside interference.

Already in just one week, this feels different to all the schools I’ve worked in before. For one thing, all the staff I’ve met have been friendly and supportive. People have been kind to me, and helped to put me at ease. This does not feel like an establishment where staff stab each other in the back, and although everyone is working hard, there isn’t that horrible tense atmosphere which is usually the product of over-the-top accountability cultures. I left my last school because I felt like I was constantly walking on eggshells, with everyone fearful of the senior leadership team. I would get rapped on the knuckles (metaphorically speaking) for the slightest infraction, but never got praise for any of my hard work. My new school, on the other hand, seems to have that ethos of “high challenge, low threat” advocated by Mary Myatt.

It’s still early days and I’m sure I will have much more to reflect on in the weeks and months ahead. All week I have been trying to put my finger on what makes this school different. There isn’t anything overtly noticeable about it. On the surface, it looks like most any other primary school in the metropolis. So far, I’ve come up with the following:

  • ┬áThe head teacher has a very clear vision for her school. She is not afraid to stand her ground and push back, whether it’s with parents, governors or the local authority if it’s in the best interests of her school.
  • High calibre staff are recruited – there is no dead wood here. Everyone is on message and consistency is key.
  • Staff are valued and nurtured. Already, I have been signed up to attend two training courses. Professional development is taken seriously.
  • There is attention to detail so that the whole school runs like a well oiled machine. My induction was the most meticulous I have ever experienced.
  • Children in the school are well behaved. Right from day one, behaviour expectations are made clear and re-inforced. Children walk silently down corridors because the head insists on it.
  • So much thought has been put into how the limited space in the school is used. Despite these limits, the school doesn’t feel cramped at all, but airy, clean and tidy.

Overwhelmingly though, the biggest factor in why this is a good school is the calibre of the head teacher. I think this is the case in most other successful schools – take Michaela for example. What a difference it makes when there is someone who really knows what they are doing and have the strength of personality to see it through. It’s the equivalent of leadership X-factor. Some people have it, others don’t.

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